George Santayana

George Santayana

(1863-1952)

Born in Madrid, Spain, Jorge Agustrn Nicolas Ruiz de Santayana y Borras came to the United States as a boy He moved to Boston in 1872, at the age of nine, to live with his mother and his half-brothers and half-sisters.

Santayana changed his name to George, but he still had difficulty adjusting to a new country. In school, the other students bullied him, and he turned to books. At the age of sev¬ enteen, while a student at the Boston Latin School, Santayana won first prize for his poem “Day and Night.’’ He entered Harvard University two years later, as a philosophy major, with aspirations of becoming a poet.

After he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1886, Santayana began his gradu¬ ate studies in philosophy at the University of Berlin in Germany. He spent some time at Cambridge University, in England, and in 1888, he returned to the United States. Three years later, Santayana became the first Hispanic philosopher to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard.

Santayana then took a teaching job at Harvard, but he was not a philosopher’s philosopher. Although the administration pressured him to concentrate on philoso¬ phy, he continued to publish poetry.

In the mid-1890s, Santayana found a solution to his problem. He created a philosophy course in aesthetics, which is the study of all things beautiful and artis¬ tic. The course allowed Santayana to pursue his interests in literature and poet¬ ry in a philosophical context. It became immensely popular.

In 1896, Santayana published his first philosophical work, The Sense of Beauty, which included his lectures on aesthetics.The book was highly praised and won the approval of the Harvard administration. Santayana had found his niche in philosophy.

In 1900, he published Interpretations of Poetry and Religion, and in 1905-06, he published The Life ofReason, a five-volume set, which laid the groundwork for his future ideas.The Life ofReason brought him new fame at Harvard. He was promoted to full professor in 1907, but he was never happy with academics.

Santayana retired from teaching in 1912 and spent the remainder of his life traveling and liv¬ ing in Europe.During this time, Santayana enjoyed the fame and stature of a philosopher renowned worldwide.

In the spirit of the detached thinker, for which he became so well known, he published numerous books that reflected his critical thoughts on society and religion.In 1927, Santayana became the first Hispanic to receive the Gold Medal from the Royal Society of Literature in London. In 1944, he published his autobiography, Persons and Places. Santayana died in 1952.